Blog Post 5: brb

Hi everyone,

Nice continued discussion of Jonze’s Her today. Our next visual text for Monday, “Be Right Back” from the anthology series Black Mirror, poses a striking counterpoint to Her, addressing some of the same issues and questions around digital technology through a different science-fictional concept.

So let’s use this blog post to think about how these two texts relate and compare in terms of some of the key issues we’ve been thinking about: what does “Be Right Back” show us about questions of identity, embodiment, and relationships in a world shaped by digital technology, and how does it resemble and/or differ from what Her shows us? You’re free to pursue the relations between these two texts in whatever way is most intriguing to you, provided that you discuss each one specifically and directly, referring to particular scenes, lines, etc., to show how you see the two texts relating — as you do that, use the film analysis techniques we worked with in class today to develop your claims. Don’t just draw comparisons between the two for their own sake — try instead to use that comparison to move towards a larger idea or claim of your own that responds to the issues you see between the two films.

Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post — click the “Leave a Comment” link at the top of the post. It should be at least 250 words, and is due by 11:59pm on Sunday, October 7th. If you have any questions, let me know via email.

11 thoughts on “Blog Post 5: brb

  1. Reliance
    Although both Her and Be Right Back demonstrate problems in using online databases as outlets for social interactions, one talks about creating a relationship while the other recreating. This creates many problems for each, both different in their own ways.
    Social networking online can cause moments of unrealistic expectations. In both Her and Be Right Back, both characters were attracted to the idea of non-human or computerized social interaction. As time went on however, these interactions became less and less appealing. In Her, Theodore realizes this during the interaction with another girl hearing Samantha’s instruction in her ear. When he notices her lip quiver in the intimate close-up shot, he has this realization. The viewer is drawn to the quiver of the lip due to this shot and thus is a major turning point in this film. In Be Right Back, the little differences between the program and ash compile and Martha snaps. In the medium shot of them in bed with Ash pretending to breathe, you can feel the tension and frustration between the two of them. This causes a major shift in the atmosphere surrounding Martha and Ash.
    Online networking and other social platforms can cause unrealistic expectations in others. In Her, Theodore begins to rely on Samantha, and panics when she is not immediately available. In the scene where she doesn’t answer the phone and Theodore begins to run out of his building, the atmosphere changes, the light shifts, and the scene becomes gloomier. Darker colors are worn by bystanders and the sky is grey. This shift in color demonstrates his anxiety over his loss and reliance on Samantha. He expects her to be there for him night and day, 24/7, which is an unrealistic expectation for a human. For a computer it may be more realistic, but what happens if he and Samantha don’t work out and he goes back to dating women? It is likely that this expectation could translate to a new relationship and cause problems for him in the future. Today people are connected almost instantly. Often people have anxiety over a lack of instantaneous response on social media. This unrealistic expectation is similar to that of Theodore and Samantha. In the non-computerized world people have other obligations that often hold them back from responding to someone right away. Samantha has other relationships and personal obligations. Theodore does not think she should. he expects her to be waiting for his call.
    Often grief causes people to do things they would not normally do. In Be Right Back, Martha so overcome by grief buys a human form of her deceased partner, which she previously refused to consider. This human form was not her partner was not him but rather a creation of him based on his social platforms. During the first scene when he walks down the stairs, the tension builds because of the music and the long shot. This shift is the first major turning point in the episode. This is emphasized by the music and the shot. After this there is a continuous increase in mood in Martha until the moment mentioned above when she snapped. After that moment everything changed. When she walks him to the cliff and he instantly changes mood in order to not jump, he manipulates her based on his knowledge of her and her reactions. This ability to manipulate stems from his access to the internet similar to that of Samantha and Theodore. Manipulation because of researched knowledge happens today. People can be stalked because of their use of social media, but they can also be manipulated and/or catfished because of this.
    Both films demonstrate issues with using online platforms as outlets for social interactions. This demonstrates the impact of this today. People rely on social media to communicate but create unrealistic expectations and leave themselves open for manipulation as a result. Now I am not saying that social media is all bad and people need to stop using it, but I am saying that people need to be careful in order to not run into situations in which they cannot escape.


  2. After watching both texts, it is quite clear that technology is nowhere near its limits in today’s time. During “Be Right Back” Martha deals with the loss of Ash (her lover). In today’s world there are grieving groups and books to lean towards to deal with this new life, but Martha gets invited to a beta program (like a prototype) where Ash is kept alive though software. At first this started through messages but with time Martha’s needs developed and she had a clone of him who was learning the best it could to be Ash in every possible way. Sadly, the clone can only be Ash’s digital identity, as seen in certain areas of the episode. While Martha was ordering Ash to jump off the cliff he said “okay if you are sure” but she mentioned how he would have put up a fight and that’s when the clone was very adamant about not jumping thus confusing Martha more. This also happened in the scene where Martha got frustrated and asked clone Ash to exit the room. He was just going to leave when Martha knew the real Ash would have stayed and fought with her. The complexities of a person cannot be shown through technology. Her also proves this though multiple scenes. While Theodore and Samantha tried to establish a relationship, Samantha just could not understand certain emotions like sad, which Theodore made very clear to her in a mean way or understand why he would get jealous about Samantha spending time with the Alan OS. Only humans are capable of having the full human experience, and therefore a relationship between a human and a software system will never replace a relationship between two humans. However, the societies that both these films exist in play an important part in the development of the film. In Theodore’s world the OS systems were very accepted and even normalized. Therefore, his relationship with Samantha was not fighting the power of social exclusion. Theodore went on a successful double date with Samantha and even introduced her to his niece. Their situation had a much better chance for success because this became a norm. Martha did not have this same luxury. She was dealing with a beta program and it was very obvious that Ash’s clone was not an accepted part of society. She alienated herself from family and when her sister made a surprise visit, she had to hide the clone in the closet and even lie about her moving on. She had no social guidance to deal with her feelings about the situation which doomed it to fail from the start. At the end of the film Martha even solved the situation by hiding Ash’s clone in the closet and only letting her daughter see him on weekends or her birthday. Ash’s clone was not an idea that made sense in society yet so while we (the audience) can understand her desire to keep Ash alive, we are also just as freaked out as her that this is even a possibility and does not let her heal but instead keep her in this grieving stage forever by being reminded how the clone will never be Ash.


  3. I think that the episode from Black Mirror, “Be Right Back”, shows us that we (as people) have the ability to keep a person alive even when they are not there with us. In the film, Martha has the opportunity to bring back her late husband back to life. The new life form of Ash represents the identities we create when we are online because physically he is the person he is supposed to be but clearly throughout the movie, new Ash will never be able to fulfill the role of Martha’s husband. This film also portrays the idea that when a significant other no longer is part of one’s life, when they move on and see other people, they try to find the same qualities that their previous partner had because they were more attracted. In comparison to the movie “Her”, the new life form of Ash and Samantha both play the same role of attempting to be a significant other for the Martha and Theodore. However, the real identities of Ash and Samantha and their presence in both films are not there, making their relationship one step further with Martha and Theodore much harder. In a particular scene in “Be Right Back”, when Martha realizes that new Ash is nothing like her late husband and she makes him jump off a cliff to die because she doesn’t need him anymore, she mentions to him that if he was her real husband, he would be begging her to spare his life, rather than standing there with no emotion. This specific scene relates very closely to a scene in “Her”, where Samantha uses Isabella to fulfill Theodore’s pleasure by having Isabella be a physical form of her identity even though she is not herself. Both of these scenes describe the idea that relationships will not work when identities are not themselves to the fullest extent.


  4. The movie Her and the Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back” show different viewpoints and stories of digital embodiment and identity. The movie Her shows this in a way of creating a new identity for Theodore to fall in love with and in Black Mirror a form of digital resurrection is used to bring back Martha’s soulmate Ash back to life. Both of these works show how someone who is not a human being can fill a hole for someone else. Additionally, both works illustrate that it isn’t healthy to become attached to something that is so close to a real human form. Martha tries to get the copy of Ash to kill himself but once she explains that Ash wouldn’t have wanted to die it becomes too real for Martha and she cannot bare to have him die. In Her Theodore tries to morph Samantha into what he wants her to be like but by the end of the movie she ends up leaving him. In “Be Right Back” Martha attempts to make the human copy of Ash as similar as to who he was before he died but she knows it’s not actually him. Theodore does not care one bit that Samantha is not a real person and he embraces the relationship. On the other hand, Martha becomes more and more frustrated at her situation as the episode goes on most likely due to the fact that she is with a copy of a human while Theodore is not. To conclude, both works show the possible power of technological embodiment in the future while the movie Her embraces it more than “Be Right Back” while the Black Mirror episode discourages it.


  5. Both Her and Be Right Back illustrate how advancements in technology can replace the thought of human beings and addiction to technology which leads to isolation and loneliness. They show how human beings can be affected and influenced by a software and digital devices that tracks and controls them. Although the idea of embodiment was missing in the movie Her, it is evident that Theodore was using the technology obsessively, as well as Martha in the beginning starts texting Ash and feels like she is talking to her real husband who passed away. Theodore’s addiction is shown when Samantha does not answer for a couple of minutes. In that scene, we can see how he panics, runs from a place to place, goes down the elevator which shows how his life drops all of a sudden, and how people look at him and try to help him, but he does not respond to them. Similarly, when Martha drops her phone when talking to Ash, she panics and starts crying as if she is losing her husband for the second time. Moreover, in both movies, we observe how this technology leads them to isolate themselves from people around them. In Her, there’s a scene when Theodore is walking in a carnival with his eyes closed listening to Samantha. This scene shows how he is living in his own bubble andworld. In Be Right Back, we see how Martha goes to a cliff by herself and is only talking to the digital copy of Ash. Clearly, it is a scene of complete isolation from other people and activities. Also, it is obvious how her relationship with her sister degrades. She chooses to hide the technological copy of Ash from people around her, as it is not acknowledged in society. Also, addiction to technology is observed in the first scene when Ash was alive. He was on his phone and did not recognize his wife trying to open the door when she was standing in the rain. All these examples portray the dangers of being addicted to social media and technology.

    Another danger that is prominent in Be right Back, is the fact that the robot of Ash is created from his social media platforms. All his information, posts, pictures, voice notes and activity on social media allowed technology to copy him physically and intellectually. This brings up the issue of privacy and online performance. What happens to our social media accounts after we pass away? Who owns them? Does it give the right for the company to share and take all the information?

    Even though the advancements in technology influenced and impacted the lives of Martha and Theodore, it will never be as accurate as human beings’ actions and thoughts. Martha realized the imperfections in Ash’s robot, which made her very angry and frustrated. He could never eat, breathe or even argue with her. Also, Theodore realized that Samantha is not only for him, instead there are other users that share her. This turning point in the movie shows how technology will never have the monogamy of human beings. These movies show us that technology can never replace the intelligence of human beings.


  6. In this episode of Black Mirror, titled “Be Right Back”, the main character Martha loses her beloved husband, Ash, in an accident returning a rental car to the dealership. The premise of the episode is to depict how social media and digital media contains so much of our lives through the archive of our posts that you can theoretically, or in this case, actually, re-create a person physically and somewhat emotionally. In terms of relationships so much so of today’s relationships and lives are dictated by what we post of our significant other online. Though you can look through the archive at significant memories, you cannot, however, recreate the most human parts of a person, whether it is how a person really smiles, reacts to a loved one, or emotionally and physically connects with another human.
    This relates to the movie “Her” because in both films a loved one is taken from a person’s life and technology provides a temporary relief to the emotional distress that each of the main characters feels. In “Her” Theodore is getting divorced from his wife and is lonely and in many ways disconnected from the world, through his work and overall interactions with others. So, in the opening scene where the advertisement for the O.S system later named Samantha begins, and the describes Samantha as a “Conscience” rather than an assistant, Theodore sees this O.S system as an opportunity to bring a companion into his life. Just as Theodore sees Samantha as a way to fill the void of a lost relationship, Martha, after losing her beloved husband, uses an AI system to fill the void of her lost husband. At first, both Theodore and Martha, find emotional and physical relief with the use of the AI systems. Theodore begins to feel more alive and present as he spends time with Samantha. This can be seen prior to the carnival scene when Theodore is in the office with Samantha as he is working on his love letters. The scene where he is in the office transitions through various shots, one being a wide angle shot, to an eye view angle. In these shot, the focus is not on Theodore’s face, but instead on his computer screen. On screen are the words “ Happy Birthday Love” in focus. This scene, then transitions into a warm shot, with a deep focus and wide angle lens, in this shot the misc en scene, involves warm, intense colors, of the blinds, and walls behind Theodore, this is complemented with the intense red shirt that Theodore wears, as he works and speak with Samantha. This entire scene depicts the feeling of warmth, love, and intense feeling between Samantha. This also illustrates that with Samantha, Theodore is beginning to find meaning in his life once again through his connection with Samantha that he hasn’t had for a long time. This depicts the purity and positivity of their interactions. As for the grieving widow Martha, the A.I system and digital media, allowed her to revisit her beloved Ash again. Prior to the A.I system, Martha spent much of her time crying, vomiting, due to her pregnancy, and alone in her own life, disconnected from everything around her. But, with the help of the A.I system Martha began to experience life again. This can be seen in the scene when she begins her vocal contact with the A.I system, and the scene opens up with Martha walking through nature, speaking to the AI-Ash and the medium shot angle transitions to a close up to the side of her face as she continues through the scattered trees. For the first time since she has been with her husband, she is outside and interacting with the world other than just her house and her work. Martha, though still grieving, seems more active than ever before in this scene as she cracks occasional smiles, and laughs as she talks to AI-Ash. Both Martha, and Theodore illustrate how through the use of technology, specifically those used to create a companion or a source of support, can in many ways help individuals such as those dealing broken relationships carry on, and re-enter life without that significant other. This is able to be done because the identity of a loved one is continued through the AI bot, as in Martha’s case, or creates a new identity, that allows the individual to feel connected to the bot just as they would a human. These films also illustrate how significant the embodiment of a identity is. This can be seen in both films, but it is most vividly displayed in the Black Mirror episode. In “Be Right Back” this is seen when Martha gets upset with AI-Ash in the bedroom. The scene is taken at a medium angle with backlight leaving the portion of the scene with Martha very illuminated, and the other side with AI-Ash very dark. Within the scene Martha focus is towards something outside of the camera angle, she is looking away throughout the scene, while AI-Ash stares at her. They argue, and Martha asks AI-Ash to leave, and he begins to leave without an argument. Martha, then, angered by the fact that AI-Ash, begins to leave without any argument gets upset, something that real Ash would never do, so she tells him to actually leave leaving AI-Ash upset because he confused by the human emotions that the Bot does not know how to illustrate. The scene ends with Martha, hitting AI-Ash wanting him to hit her back, to fill any emotion that resembled that of what real Ash depicted. Within this scene, the backlight, truly focused on the reactions of AI-Ash, and how confused the bot was with the extremely individual emotions, that Martha was asking him to show her. Overall this scene depicts how, re-creating a person physically and somewhat emotionally by the portion of our lives that are integrated through digital and social platforms online, cannot recreate the most human parts of a person, how a person really smiles, reacts to a loved one, or emotionally and physically connects with another human are all individual to each human and it is for those reasons that human to human interactions are the most sought after interactions on the planet. Which, is why try to replicate them with the use of AI in the aforementioned films.
    Overall, the message that is portrayed in both of these films, is that with the use of technology, we can recreate the feelings and emotions associated with humans, temporarily, but we cannot by any means fully re-create the feel, emotionally, physically, and intimacy associated with a real human, even if you create an identity, and a body for a robot. Without the true human emotion and feel associated with these words, it ultimately leads to a loss of a piece of self that is responsible for understanding and connecting with yourself and others. In “Be Right Back” this is illustrated by the empty look on Martha’s face after the film flashes, forward into the future, where it is her daughter’s birthday, and she sends her up to the attic where AI-Ash resides, and she stands in the extra wide shot, pale, almost lifeless, as her daughter’s voice finally brings her up the attic with AI-Ash and her daughter.


  7. The Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back” delves into the topic of human relationships with artificial intelligence. Similar to the movie “Her,” a character in the show enters a relationship with an AI, and must communicate with them through technology. This show brings up two things that I thought were interesting: the implementation of digital identity, and the aspect of a physical presence in one of these relationships. In “Be Right Back,” instead of the AI’s personality being created by programmers, like Samantha in “Her,” it is created using the digital identity of Ash, the deceased lover of Martha. When artificial Ash is first created, data is taken from his posts, emails, and online footprint. When Martha wants to be able to speak to him, she must upload videos of him to the database. The new Ash that is created from this is therefore solely based on Ash’s digital identity. In “Her,” Samantha is created by software developers, and is not based off of one persons data, but instead has access to limitless knowledge. Ash also has access to this knowledge, but the way he acts is directly based off of his digital identity. The fact that there is a body to accompany Ash as an artificial intelligence raises many questions. In class we have discussed the legitimacy of online relationships, and if there is a need for physical contact in a relationship. We see the use of a physical surrogate in “Her,” but this is only used for sex, and it is clear to both parties that there is a third consciousness present at the time. Ash having a body seems like a good idea at first, Martha can physically be with her loved one again. But as the episode goes on, it is clear that the substitute body adds little to the relationship, and makes it feel even less genuine. Without the need to sleep or eat, Ash comes across as too much of a robot to Martha. His physical presence becomes creepy, failing to make the relationship feel more real. This episode shows that forcing a physical presence by creating one that lacks the exact attributes of a human actually does not help a human-AI relationship. Both films seem to argue this point.


  8. While the circumstances in which digital technology is used in the two texts, Her and “Be Right Back,” are different, the underlining messages of the films are extremely similar. In Her, an innovative operating system is used to form a new relationship, while in “Be Right Back,” a beta trial of a new technology is used to recreate an old relationship. Both pieces of work emphasize the ability for people to become emotionally attached to digital technology just as closely as to other humans. This emotional attachment is most evident in a scene from each film in which the protagonists believe they have lost connection to their digital counterparts. In Her, this anxiety-invoking scene is extremely frantic, as Theodore sprints through the streets when his operating system (and girlfriend) does not respond when he calls for her. In “Be Right Back,” Martha burst into tears and rushes home after she drops her phone and the beta technology appears to crash. In both cases, the technology is fixed; however, the emotional breakdown that each character experiences with the thought of living their lives without this new technology shows the clear attachment that has developed between human and digital technology. Although we do not have access to technology as complex as that of the two films, the issues construed in the two texts still hold meaning in our everyday lives. These issues of attachment help us evaluate our own relationships with technology. While the smartphone is a revolutionary tool that greatly improves our standard of living, can we become emotionally attached to these devices in similar ways that Theodore and Martha become attached to their technology? It will be interesting to see how human’s relationship with technology shifts in the coming decades as new technologies are developed, similar to the ones portrayed in Her and “Be Right Back.”


  9. The “Be Right Back” episode from the series Black Mirror and the movie her, draw both similarities and differences that provide valuable insights when understanding the concepts of digital identity and the world of digital technology. In “Be Right Back” Martha reaches for a technological advancement that allows people who already passed away, to be revived in an artificially intelligent body that draws from technological information available about them. The first noticeable difference between the episode and the movie her is that Ash’s artificial body does not learn independently. In other words, the system sourced information from Martha’s recollections of her husband and so, is not able to react instinctively or create autonomous thoughts, actions, sentiments, conclusions, that haven’t been already pre-measure or designed. In her, Samantha was able to learn and be self-sufficient which allowed her to draw her own independent conclusions, thoughts, and aspirations as a self-governing entity. Nonetheless, both systems, were extremely advanced technologically if a comparison was to be drawn with the current times. They had access to an extensive and rich database that made them highly intelligent. At the beginning of the episode, Martha could only communicate to Ash through her phone similarly to how Theodore contacted with the operative system Samantha. Quickly, such reverts from being a limitation as Ash is now able to be revived in the form of a body which is even capable of performing sexual deeds. In her, Samantha’s limitation to assume a physical form created some discourse which didn’t seem to be the case in “Be Right Back”. Yet, because Ash could only act upon the information he had access to, he was not able to respond or react in certain circumstances as the real Ash would. In a scene where Martha expresses her annoyance at the system’s inability to show normal human responses when sleeping, she quickly realizes that there was something missing. She exalts: “You are not enough of him” (41:18). This moment was pivotal to understand one of the biggest underlying contrast in the two texts. Ash’s Artificial body was expected to behave in a specific manner. He was aimed at substituting a person and their immediate interactions. The body was bound to correspond to Martha’s expectations of how Ash would act in real life, though that also included nuances that could not be processed as algorithms by the body. It was an antithetical idea as the body could not live up to reviving Ash successfully since the amount of information about him was limited by his death and whatever digital archives Martha had hold of. Conversely, In her Samantha relied solely on her own autonomous exercise. Furthermore, Ash’s body continuously sought for Samantha’s validation for his doings, which was also viewed as his function. In her, Samantha had the liberty to agree and disagree with Theodore and was not bound to correspond or be under the control of Theodore. They built a relationship, while Ash and Martha attempted to perform one. These discussions may elude to whether these digital-technological advancements are centered on performativity or autonomous exercise. If a system was intelligent enough to act autonomously while continuously learning from their database and environment like Samantha, the line separating performativity and autonomous behavior is one that could be breached in a digital world.


  10. Both Be Right back and Her grapple with the complexities of human consciousness in the context of the digital realm. While the two human-like digital consciousness, Ash and Samantha, are similar in that they both share humanistic qualities despite being seperated from authentic human existence. The largest discrepancy between Ash and Samantha lies in their ability to develop and express consciousness. Samantha is able to synthesize information almost immediately from a seemingly endless amount of sources. The amount of information she is able to learn, absorb, and grow from is infinite. This is why she comes across as so eerily “human” despite the fact that she lacks a physical human form. Because she is able to learn from an endless amount of manifestations of human consciousnesses/ thoughts, she can construct her own form of consciousness that mimics our own. Additionally, she is programmed to formulate her own opinions based upon the synthesis of this information. Ash, on the other hand, can access a more finite amount of information. Because his resources are limited, he is unable to construct a consciousness that parallels Samantha’s. Thus, he can only formulate opinions and act based on information rather than emotion. Further, unlike Samantha, who is an intelligent operating system, Ash is essentially a clone. He was created from information synthesized from the social media platforms, emails, and videos of a human. Since Samantha is her own being, able to grow and expand in her own way, she is capable of human consciousness, or is at least able to mimic human consciousness. Clone Ash, on the other hand, is limited in his capacity to learn and evolve, which obstructed his ability to think and feel for himself.


  11. “Be Right Back” and “Her” are two explorations of human consciousness and reliance through machine intelligence. The two pieces of media are different in a few ways. For starters, Samantha is a software who represents a female character who Theodore has not had any previous relationship with. The romantic relationship that they share does not have any history. Samantha creates her character based off the infinite amount of information that is accessible to her. Ash and Martha’s relationship is based off both the infinite amount of information online, but it is also based off the digital history of Ash previous to his death. Ash is also a physical embodiment of a person which is surely a very different situation. Despite these differences both Ash and Samantha are representative of technologies ability to replicate human comforts, to the point where we question if it is real or not. Ash was able to to replicate physicalities but lacked when it came to playing the part of the original person. His digital representation lacked the flaws that were apparent in Martha and his relationship. He was a little too perfect, and obviously lived to serve Martha. Their relationship was not as “authentic” as Samantha and Theodore’s despite the fact that it was physical. Ash had too many expectations to meet that held Martha back from being able to love him. Theodore was able to love Samantha because he went through the process of falling in love with someone (or something). This begs the question of whether this counts as “real”. If Theodore felt like he was falling in love, then it shouldn’t matter if the someone he was falling in love with wasn’t human. All that really matters is that the feeling of love was replicated, and it clearly was.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s